In a wide-ranging interview with CNN-News18, commentator and former batsman Sanjay Manjrekar discusses the Virat Kohli controversy, possible captaincy options, the roles of previous coach Ravi Shastri and his successor Rahul Dravid, and what lies ahead for the team as Indian cricket goes through a period of transition and one of its most difficult phases. Excerpts from a book that has been edited:
1. Indian cricket is at a fork in the road that hasn’t been seen in a few years.
It’s not like India hasn’t had its share of setbacks. But these were painful losses to the worst South African side in history; this is a catastrophe. Overseas, this squad has improved its performance. However, India is at a fork in the road. These aren’t insurmountable difficulties, though.
2. Was it too soon for Virat to step down as captain? The results reveal that it wasn’t only the captaincy that was the problem.
Is it possible that Virat gave up too soon? No, I don’t believe so. It was partly due to his particular hitting style. He’d been in charge for a long time and had done an excellent job. In the absence of Rohit, India had no alternative but to field KL Rahul in this series, which posed a challenge.
3. Kohli had a few more years as Test captain, according to Ravi Shastri. Do you think he’s wrong ?
No, he did have a few years, particularly in Tests, where his spirit was crucial. His starting XI hasn’t been great, which is a legacy left by past management. He had a couple of years, but his form was an issue. He usually bounces back fast, but he’s had trouble doing so recently. He didn’t want to put himself under any more stress. In addition, the scenery and scenario surrounding him had altered. He used to expect things to go his way, but that has changed. That was an extra obstacle he didn’t want to deal with while concentrating on his batting.
4. Isn’t it evident that the BCCI affair influenced his decision?
He was startled when the ODI captaincy was taken away from him after he relinquished the T20 captaincy. We didn’t see test captaincy coming. The coach, though, had changed. His tenure began with Kumble, followed by a brief stint…with Shastri. Virat wanted Anil Shastri, a hard-nosed cricketer. We learned that his and Anil’s relationship was no longer viable. It’s critical for Virat to have people who believe in him. He understood he needed to persuade Dravid that he wasn’t going to be like Shastri. And the BCCI administration, which stripped him of his leadership, demonstrated that he would not have the unquestioning backing that he had previously had.
5. Was it reasonable for him to be aggrieved that his ODI leadership had been revoked?
It is no longer about series or standings for Indian fans; they want India to win world cups. So he must have noticed that he’s having some difficulties. The captaincy of the Royal Challengers Bangalore played a part. He believed there was no damage in stepping down as T20 captain on his own, but he was certain he would have stayed in ODIs and Tests. But what happened after that was definitely due to the environment around him altering, and him sensing that he wouldn’t be able to keep going.
6. If Shastri had persisted, he claims that a few people would not have been able to comprehend his achievement. What do you believe he’s referring to?
I’m at a loss for words. Ravi Shastri was a hero of mine. I was a player under him, and he was a strong combatant and a senior. I’m not sure who Shastri 2.0 is. I don’t respond to what he says in public because I anticipate it. I don’t want to offend anyone. He doesn’t make very educated remarks, and you can tell he has a hidden motive. It’s not a fair assessment of cricket.
7. Was the BCCI trying to break up a Virat-Ravi friendship that was maybe becoming too large for Indian cricket?
It wasn’t politics that caused the problem; it was Virat’s team. It was Dhoni’s squad and he got all the backing while he was captain. If Virat Kohli had gotten India success at ICC tournaments, it would be clear that Virat is the boss, and Ravi Shastri was keeping the best environment possible around him. Even though he had won a pair of IPL tournaments, his results were an issue. Rohit Sharma is in contention because of the IPL. Giving Virat someone to challenge about tactics, especially squad selection, might be a cricketing motive. Ravi Shastri made it clear that he would never confront Virat; he may claim that they had disagreements. When you can discuss techniques, they become more sound.
8. Is there a lack of focus and aggression in the team now that Virat isn’t captain?
It’s inappropriate to pass judgement on KL Rahul so quickly after his performance in the second Test. Virat Kohli’s enthusiasm and spirit are contagious. But what did the spirit do for the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) or India on crucial days in major ICC tournaments? On the field, MS Dhoni lacked the same vigour, yet he produced excellent outcomes. As a result, Virat did not win or lose only due to this. I evaluate a leader based on his or her starting lineup, and Virat had a significant problem with this. I don’t have a problem with KL Rahul’s behavior. I’d rather have less energy and excellent outcomes.
9. As we saw in the stump microphone scenario, his aggressiveness often worked against him.
His batting form had deteriorated, and he was feeling endangered in his position… It turns into a desperate attempt to win. Desperation is what you observed in the stump mic situation. It was a major offence, and I was astonished no one was prosecuted. Insinuating that the host broadcaster was assisting the home side was a major charge that was absolutely out of bounds.
10. What do you believe is the problem with the Indian squad as a whole? Take, for example, the one-day series.
Rohit Sharma covered over India’s problems in Tests, even in England. For a long time, India’s Test batting has been an issue. If you look at the top five, Rohit and KL Rahul did well in England and have continued to do so. However, number three Pujara, Virat Kohli, and Ajinkya Rahane have all been out of form. When you’re down 3, 4, 5, and out of shape, it’s only a matter of time until you get harmed. The bowling has gone well. This is one of the reasons. This is when the process of selecting a team comes into play. When there’s a problem in the horizon and you don’t make any adjustments.If you make modifications now, it won’t work since the block will stay. So excellent captains, leaders, and management foresee problems, and India paid the price for it. There was a lot of concern in South Africa about Pujara and Rahane’s present form, as well as Ravichandran Ashwin’s ability to bowl overseas. All of these considerations were overlooked. They went with seniors even in the one-day series, which baffles me. I don’t believe India’s cricket is suddenly in bad hands. There is ability. I just think India paid a high price for not seeing what was clear.
11. So you want Rahul Dravid to play a bigger part in the team? Is this what you’re implying? Is he not bringing his contributions as much as he should be?
We’re guessing from afar, as you can see. We don’t know how much of a say Rahul Dravid had in the player selection process, for example. Whether it was the captain who insisted on the starting XI or Rahul Dravid who tried to persuade the team that this was the best course of action. One selector is always involved in the decision-making and selection of the starting XI. So, you don’t know who Rahul Dravid is, but I do. He carries himself with dignity. And, to begin with, he isn’t someone who would suffocate the captain. But Rahul Dravid is a distant memory.I believe that a coach’s point is going to be a major choice that even the selectors aren’t permitted to make, and that the cricket board will make that decision. Because the deal is so lucrative, the coach should have a lot of influence. What good is having someone of Rahul Dravid’s stature if his contributions are going to be made in the pavilion when the game is being played? And if he had concerns with the starting XI or tactics after the game, it’s pointless to have a player of this stature.I don’t believe the coach’s position is very crucial because the captain will be the one making all of the key choices at the moment. It appears that there isn’t much in cricket. So why go to such great lengths to hire a cricket coach? So, if a new captain is appointed in the future, the coach will play a significant role.
12. Let me now turn my attention to the captaincy dilemma. Rohit Sharma has been clearly identified as the guy who would lead the team forward in the shorter format. Is he the best option for Test cricket?
After Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane would have been the obvious option if he was scoring runs. Rahane has performed admirably on the field. He has a fantastic track record as a captain. After India was knocked out for 36, Virat Kohli departed Australia. Rahane led the second Test match, which India won, and India went on to win the series. He has a great track record, but you can’t have someone captaining the team if he’s a burden on the field. So he leaves; Rohit Sharma is the sole deserving contender in all three forms. In T20s, he’s rather excellent. Naturally, we’ve seen it in the IPL.He’s captained in one-dayers, looks the part, and after that performance in England, he’s the most worthy contender for Test matches. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s take a look at a year; India doesn’t have much of a choice. All of the other options have a slew of difficulties. In a single year, a few of Test matches are played. There must be a lot of T20 and ODI cricket.So take one year at a time and pick someone who is most deserved, and if there is a problem, search for a new leader. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because I don’t believe there are any more fascinating possibilities right now. You could discover someone after a year or two.
13. Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant are the other players. What do you think of both of these young men’s candidacies: highly skilled, Indian cricket’s future?
I’m not going to look any further than Rohit Sharma right now. Because if there isn’t a fitness concern, there’s no harm in choosing Rohit Sharma. The West Indies, for example, are coming to town for the next international cricket match. They are involved in T20 and one-day cricket. You should make Rohit Sharma the captain there since he is fit. Then Rohit Sharma becomes unfit for a few of Test matches, and you have to choose a new Test captain. Candidates include Bumrah and Rishabh Pant…or someone you have in mind. The selectors were wise to name him vice-captain in order to get him into that position. Everything about Bumrah suggests that he is a razor-sharp and well-balanced cricketer. However, you have no notion how he will perform as captain. So start assigning him leadership responsibilities at the domestic level. Pant has also captained in the IPL, so he’s someone to keep an eye on in the future. However, it is currently too hazardous to venture into new area when you have someone like Rohit Sharma who checks all the boxes. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We felt a burden seeing Virat Kohli since he had done that job for a long time. Until his batting form deteriorated and other events occurred, he began to believe it was too much of a burden. Virat, on the other hand, was more about the outcomes than the load.
14. In terms of the Test team, what about the positions of Pujara and Rahane? Before the third Test, you mentioned that this was probably Rahane’s final opportunity. Why do you say that, and where do you think both of them belong now?
People should not be surprised if I claim this is Rahane’s final match. I’m sure you and the others say the same thing in private. It’s not just about the number of runs, but also about how someone seems on the field. Ajinkya Rahane has demonstrated that he is a bit unsure someplace since 2017. It’s obvious in the way he hits and the way he gets out. Another item that reveals information about a player’s game is this. Virat Kohli, for example, isn’t reaching a hundred, but he’s still putting up 70s, and there’s a lot of value in having him before he finds his form. So Rahane, in my opinion, has reached the end of his shelf life. Another thing to consider is that when you see older players, you are severing the rope for younger players. In his heyday, Javagal Srinath was left out of the playing XI because the selectors were giving certain experienced players a longer rope. It’s also critical for selectors to keep in mind everyone in Indian cricket who is in contention. So, for obvious reasons, I’ll be astonished if Ajinkya Rahane is chosen; selectors should go beyond him. Pujara is intriguing since he is approaching 100 Test matches. To leave him out, a very cold-blooded selection will be required. And I have more time for Pujara than I do for Rahane. This may be deduced by the way they bat. There’s no other explanation. I believe Pujara has something left in him, but Rahane would not have been on my radar two years ago if I had been the selector.
15. In the absence of these two, do we have enough potential to propel India ahead for the next 4-5 years?
Because there is nothing to lose, it is a fantastic moment to bring in new players. The older players aren’t performing up to par. It’s not like they’re earning hundreds of dollars and you decide to take a chance on a kid. When India is losing, it is quite easy to make changes since the seniors are playing but not getting runs. That was a humiliating loss. That’s a squad India should have thrashed 3-0 in Test matches. As a result, these guys are out of shape. It’s an excellent time to experiment with new players. Remember the “Fab Four” of Indian cricket? I remember I used to predict what would happen to Indian cricket if all of the players retired at the same time. Overseas, India’s cricket performance has really improved. You can now bowl better. As a result, this is only a fictitious threat. Indian cricket is progressing, and its health is good in the sense that it is a popular sport in India, as it is in Pakistan. Despite the difficulties, every child wishes to play cricket. So long as there is a desire among children to play cricket, you will continue to attract talent.
16. Let me return to Virat Kohli’s situation. What do you anticipate from him? Because Indian cricket will be inextricably connected to his future.
I’m not convinced we should be so dramatic as to believe that his future will determine Indian cricket. But, in terms of battling, I see it more in Virat Kohli the batsman, owing to the manner he has handled leadership problems. Sunil Gavaskar was threatened in one-dayers as captain, as I indicated in my piece, but he kept it to himself. After that, he went on to lead India in a world cup match in Australia. The centennial tournament is taking place. India went on to win; it was similar to a world cup victory for India, and he was presented with the trophy on the final day. On my last day as captain, he stated, “This is a beautiful gift.” So that’s the skipper who waited till the event was over, whereas Virat Kohli declared his desire to step down as captain before the tournament even started. That’s hardly what you’d expect from a leader. Returning to Virat Kohli, one of the greatest batsmen of all time. Let’s not forget that he’s going through a difficult time right now. He experienced a brief period of inconsistency in 2014 when he was in England, averaging only 13. However, he scored four hundreds versus Australia. As a result, he used to revert to his previous state. This brief period has lasted a little longer. I believe his mind is still somewhere else. Look look how enthusiastically he plays and bats. There is a technical problem that I have mentioned. I’m not sure if you use Instagram, but there was a photo of Virat Kohli from 2011 where he was batting and playing shots on the backfoot, but today he is more of a front foot player. As a result, he makes things more difficult for himself. Technical abilities are very important when you lack confidence. So I don’t believe you have to worry about Virat Kohli the batter if he can figure things out. He still contributes to the team in this state. So, in the next years, we’ll see how Virat Kohli manages himself as a batter. This is an unavoidable occurrence that has occurred to all great athletes. In his last 25 Test matches, Tendulkar has an average of 25. It can happen to anyone. The exciting aspects of sports that we continue to seek out.
17. Finally, where do you think Virat Kohli ranks among India’s all-time best captains?
MS Dhoni is without a doubt one of India’s best captains. In general, I rate captains in international cricket as well as ICC tournaments. Because that’s when you’ll be put to the ultimate test. When you play bilateral cricket, you are going to and coming back from the workplace. There isn’t a lot of stress there. Dhoni, on the other hand, has excelled at ICC tournaments. Virat Kohli, Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Saurav Ganguly When it comes to Kohli, there are many things to admire about him since he is a leader by example. Before this series, the Wanderers played a test match on a dangerous field. Despite the fact that India lost the series 2-0, Kohli led by example as captain. Despite a pitch that might have killed someone, he stated that we want to win. India’s morale remained strong as a result of this. The never-say-die attitude is what you get from Virat Kohli. India defeated in the World Test Championship final. However, India, led by Virat Kohli, fought to the last end to save the game. But, at the end of the day, you must discuss the outcomes. The findings were nowhere to be found. So it would be unjust to leave Dhoni out of any discussion of all-time greats. At a period when there was a global inferiority complex, Kapil Dev stood out. After the match-fixing episode, Saurav Ganguly led India to few international victories. Sunil Gavaskar is also a cricketer. As a result, these are all outstanding leaders. Because you live in a time when there are so many platforms, the excitement is higher. However, Indian cricket did not begin till ten years ago. These are captains who, in my opinion, have been better than Virat Kohli, who has been a great player in his own right.